With both sides in the US presidential election duelling in court over rules and procedures ahead of the November 3 vote, Democrats scored a victory on Monday when the Supreme Court left in place a ruling that extended a deadline for counting mail-in ballots in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.
But Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee have also notched up important wins, including a recent ruling in Texas limiting voters’ ability to correct rejectedmail-in ballots.
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted hundreds of lawsuits in the US over how people can cast their ballots. Americans, fearing the novel coronavirus, are expected to vote by mail in record numbers.
Trump’s Republican allies who control the US Senate are rushing to confirm conservative jurist Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court before the election. Seating Barrett on the court would create a conservative majority that is likely to rule against Democrats in voting cases.
Below are some of the biggest victories so far for Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
BIDEN LEGAL WINS
Pennsylvania lawsuit over mail-in deadlines
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on September 17 that officials in the closely contested state can accept mail-in ballots three days after the November 3 election so long as they were postmarked by 8pm ET on Election Day.
The Supreme Court, in a 4-4 decision, said it would leave that decision in place, turning away an appeal by the state Republican Party and Republican officials.
Republicans did prevail on one key issue at Pennsylvania’s highest court. Interpreting a state law, the court said officials must throw out so-called “naked ballots” – ballots that arrive withoutinner “secrecy envelopes”.
Republicans argued the secrecy sleeves help deter fraud. Democrats have warned the ruling could lead to an estimated 100,000 votes being thrown out.
Pennsylvania judge rejects voter fraud claims
Drop boxes have become a partisan flashpoint, with Democrats promoting them as a safe option for voters unnerved by the COVID-19 pandemic and US Postal Service delivery problems.
Republican officials and Trump’s campaign have argued without evidence that the boxes could enable voting fraud. On October 10, US District Judge Nicholas Ranjan inPittsburgh, a Trump appointee, rejected a bid by the Trump campaign and Republican Party to limit the use of drop boxes in Pennsylvania.
Ranjan wrote that the plaintiffs failed to prove a risk of voter fraud. “At most, they have pieced together a sequence of uncertain assumptions.”
An election worker collects mail-in ballots and guides voters at the entrance to the Registrar of Voters building in San Diego, California, on October 19, 2020 [Mike Blake/Reuters]Texas ballot drop-off sites
Democrats scored a win in Texas on October 15 when a judge lifted an order by Republican Governor Greg Abbott limiting counties to a single location for mail ballot drop-off sites.That order is on hold while it is being appealed.
State court judge Tim Sulak, who sits in Austin, said Abbott’s order would “increase risks of exposure to COVID-19 infections” and “substantially burden voters’ constitutionallyprotected rights to vote”. Sulak’s ruling is being reviewed by an appeals court.
TRUMP LEGAL WINS
Texas signature requirement
A federal appeals court on Monday said Texas does not have to give voters a chance to correct mail-in ballots that are rejected because the signature does not match the one on filewith the state.
The Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals halted a lower court order that gave voters an opportunity to correct, or “cure,” the defect.
The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by a voting rights group against Republican Party officials in Texas, a longtime Republican stronghold that may be up for grabs this year.
Texas mail-in ballot battle
On October 8 the Texas Supreme Court ruled that officials in the state’s most populous county, a Democratic stronghold that includes Houston, cannot send out unsolicited applications for mail-in ballots to its 2.4 million registered voters.
Unlike other states, Texas limits mail-in voting to those who are 65 and older, cite a disability or illness, are in jail but otherwise eligible or are outside the county where they areregistered.
The decision was a win for Republican party officials, who said sending mail-in ballot applications to everyone in Harris County, the third most populous county in the United States, would cause confusion and lead to voter fraud.
An election worker looks over some of the hundreds of thousands of early mail-in ballots as they are processed at the Orange County Registrar of Voters in California on October 16, 2020 [Mike Blake/Reuters]Florida restricts ex-felon’s right to vote
A federal appeals court ruled in September that Florida can require felons to pay fines, restitution and legal fees they owe before they regain their right to vote.
By a 6-4 vote, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling that the measure amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. Five of the six judges in the majority were appointed by Trump.
Ex-felons in Florida are more likely to register as Democrats, according to an analysis published this month by the Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald and ProPublica.
Nearly 900,000 Floridians with felony convictions will be unable to vote in the election because of the decision, according to an October 14 study by the Sentencing Project, acriminal justice reform group.
Fight over absentee ballots in Wisconsin
Wisconsin election officials cannot count absentee ballots that arrive after the November 3 election, a federal appeals court ruled on October 8.
Democrats had argued that ballots postmarked by election day that arrive up to six days later should be tallied, saying such a policy would protect the right to vote amid a surge in mail-inballots because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that it was too close to election day to make significant modifications to the voting process.
In a scathing dissent, one judge denounced the decision as a “travesty” and said thousands of people would lose their right to vote.
An appeal to the Supreme Court is pending.
A young voter fills out a ballot with assistance from a poll worker at a polling station in Milwaukee on the first day of in-person voting in Wisconsin on October 20, 2020 [Bing Guan/Reuters]Michigan counting deadline
A Michigan appeals court ruled on October 16 that ballots received after 8pm ET on November 3 cannot be counted, reversing a ruling by a state court judge in Detroit and changing the battleground state’s voting rules just two weeks before the election.
The judge in Detroit had said Michigan voters should have their ballots counted for up to 14 days following November 3 so long as they were postmarked by November 2.
Revisiting the ‘Friends’ Thanksgiving episodes may sweeten the holiday
Over ten seasons, “Friends” viewers got to join in the tradition along with Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Joey, Ross and Chandler as they became their own family. They cooked, ate, fought, invited some A-list guests over, and always got up to some Turkey Day shenanigans. Missing family and my actual friends this holiday and in need…
Monica puts on a one-woman performance after the group gets locked out of her apartment. As her voice gets increasingly higher, Chandler tells her “OK Monica, only dogs can hear you now.” The food is burnt, Chandler hates Thanksgiving, but it’s their first time spending it all together.
Season 2, Episode 8 — “The One With the List”
Ross makes a list, Rachel and Julie pros and cons. Of course Rachel finds the list.
Season 3, Episode 9 — “The One With the Football”
“Losers walk.” Losers talk.” The Geller siblings’ competitiveness comes out for all the gang to see.
Season 4, Episode 8 — “The One With Chandler in a Box”
When Chandler and Joey fall for the same girl, Chandler breaks Joey’s heart. He decides to prove his love for Joey by sitting in a box for six hours.
Season 5, Episode 8 — “The One With All the Thanksgivings”
Worth it for vintage Monica and Rachel alone. Plus, Chandler’s 80’s hair.
Season 6, Episode 9 — “The One Where Ross Got High”
Confessions and Monica ratting out Ross for smoking pot and stealing Playboys.
Season 7, Episode 8 — “The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs”
Chandler doesn’t like Thanksgiving and guess who doesn’t like dogs either?
Season 8, Episode 9 — “The One With the Rumor”
Rumors about Rachel, friends from high school, and Brad Pitt brings pie.
Season 9, Episode 8 — “The One With Rachel’s Other Sister”
Rachel’s sister Amy (Christina Applegate) shows up and brings a bunch of drama with her.
Season 10, Episode 8 — “The One With the Late Thanksgiving”
Chandler and Monica receive the best news.
“Friends”currently streams on HBO Max, which like CNN is part of WarnerMedia.
Drake sides with The Weeknd, says Grammys ‘may no longer matter’
The rapper took to social media to complain about it.”I think we should stop allowing ourselves to be shocked every year by the disconnect between impactful music and these awards and just accept that what once was the highest form of recognition may no longer matter to the artists that exist now and the ones…
The rapper took to social media to complain about it.”I think we should stop allowing ourselves to be shocked every year by the disconnect between impactful music and these awards and just accept that what once was the highest form of recognition may no longer matter to the artists that exist now and the ones that come after,” Drake wrote on his Instagram stories. “It’s like a relative you keep expecting to fix up but they just can’t change their ways.”Despite the commercial and critical success of The Weeknd’s “After Hours” album, and many industry observers considered his single, “Blinding Lights,” a frontrunner for song of the year, he did not receive Grammy nods.Drake wrote that he, too, had thought that The Weeknd “was a lock for either album or song of the year along with countless other reasonable assumptions and it just never goes that way.””This is a great time for somebody to start something new that we can build up over time and pass on to the generations to come,” Drake said.After the nominations were announced on Tuesday, The Weeknd took to Twitter.”The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency,” he wrote.Harvey Mason Jr., the Recording Academy’s chair and interim president/CEO, said in a statement to CNN “We understand that The Weeknd is disappointed at not being nominated.””I was surprised and can empathize with what he’s feeling. His music this year was excellent, and his contributions to the music community and broader world are worthy of everyone’s admiration,” the statement continued. “We were thrilled when we found out he would be performing at the upcoming Super Bowl and we would have loved to have him also perform on the GRAMMY stage the weekend before. Unfortunately, every year, there are fewer nominations than the number of deserving artists.”For years The Recording Academy has been the target of criticism that it is out of step with the preferences of consumers and has failed to recognize women and artists of color equally.Nicki Minaj appeared to echo that latter point when she tweeted after the nominations “Never forget the Grammys didn’t give me my best new artist award when I had 7 songs simultaneously charting on billboard & bigger first week than any female rapper in the last decade- went on to inspire a generation. They gave it to the white man Bon Iver.”Singer Teyana Taylor tweeted that there were no female nominees in the best R&B album category.Justin Bieber, who racked up nominations in both the pop and country categories, complained that he should be vying for R&B awards.”To the Grammys I am flattered to be acknowledged and appreciated for my artistry,” he wrote in a statement posted on his verified Instagram account. “I am very meticulous and intentional about my music. With that being said, I set out to make an R&B album. Changes was, and is, an R&B album. It is not being acknowledged as an R&B album which is very strange to me.”
Letter from Paris: French Universalism Shows its Limitations in the Art World—and Beyond
As the world came to a halt in the spring, I was reading two books simultaneously: How We Became Posthuman, a seminal work from 1999 by N. Katherine Hayles about transformation in the digital age, and Achille Mbembe’s Brutalisme, a philosophical volume on our tumultuous times that had just been published a few weeks prior.…
As the world came to a halt in the spring, I was reading two books simultaneously: How We Became Posthuman, a seminal work from 1999 by N. Katherine Hayles about transformation in the digital age, and Achille Mbembe’s Brutalisme, a philosophical volume on our tumultuous times that had just been published a few weeks prior. I opened both looking for material to back up some points in an essay I was writing. But I quickly realized that, taken together, they pointed to something crucial to an understanding of the workings of French institutions and how, in the art world, those institutions are positioning themselves in terms of exclusion, inclusion, and secession.
As France went into lockdown and resorted to a frenetic consumption of news, specific themes started to surface around questions related to what it means to be human and the long-debated concept of French universalism. Handed down through history as a remnant of the 1789 Revolution, French universalism is based on a belief that to be treated equal and be free, citizens should surrender their personal affiliations and that no group should be given special treatment. In the 1990s, however, universalism’s ideal of an abstract, essentialized citizen with no particularities collided with real bodies as women, queer activists, and immigrants started to organize, with support from multiculturalist politics gaining ground in Europe.
While the dominant political discourse in France remains conditioned by mutations of a universalist heritage, the pandemic shined light on a notable divide. In one camp were idealists hoping that a collective vulnerability to a shared, natural threat would revive the hope of building a world in common. In the other were more pragmatic observers who couldn’t help but notice how contamination rates among stigmatized minorities mirrored the results of years of politics based on an “indifference to difference.” (While statistics based on race, ethnicity, or gender remain forbidden in France, contamination rates in suburbs populated by a majority of residents of foreign origin with higher unemployment rates were soaring.)
In the context of the first camp, Hayles’s study of the posthuman can be read as an attempt to salvage a “critical universalist” position by foregrounding how the human stands in relation to other species and artificial agents. In April, Hayles herself published an essay, “Novel Corona: Posthuman Virus,” stressing “the commonalities that all humans share with one another, notwithstanding all the ethnic, racial, geopolitical, and other differences that exist between us.”
But, as reflected by the second camp, humans are mnemonic beings who reflect past and present living conditions, with vulnerabilities that affect some more than others. As Mbembe prophetically wrote in Brutalisme, humanity’s essence has been transformed and its existence threatened as a result of historically imposed Western dichotomies (nature/culture, subject/object, human/nonhuman) that erased ancestral African cosmogonies rooted in free-flowing and ever-reconfiguring flux.
Achille Mbembe with his award-winning book Critique of Black Reason (2015).
Matthias Balk/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Image.
During lockdown, Brutalisme—a dense and sinuous reconsideration of contemporary theories about technology, identity, and ecology—became one of the most-read books in France. While Mbembe was already a prominent public intellectual there (he graduated from the Sorbonne and the Paris Institute of Political Studies, and has frequently written for national newspapers), the book’s popularity can be pinned to a more specific cause. In April, Mbembe published a piece at the francophone website aoc.media (the acronym for “Analyse Opinion Critique”) that spread quickly as other publications shared extracts and responses translated in several languages.
The highly freighted term “universal” appeared in the article’s title, “The Universal Right to Breathe”—a gesture that was hard not to notice in a political context where the French president was rekindling the old debate over universalism by proclaiming “fighting separatism” as his priority. Before this moment, the Cameroon-born Mbembe had been known mostly for his analysis of contemporary power relations, widening the scope of “biopower” through his pivotal concept of “necropolitics,” or the annihilation of those considered enemies of the state. Sovereignty, he explained, equals the power to decide who lives and who doesn’t, as exemplified by modern states built on slavery, apartheid, and colonization—a power that, in recent times, has been extended on a planetary scale to include supranational entities such as corporations.
In such a context, “separatism” appears above all a vital reaction to the peril of death imposed on those treated, in Mbembe’s words, as “mere waste.” And the pandemic reveals political universalism as the material, structural construction of power that it is, regardless of whether citizens adhere to it or not. It is a kind of power that operates through what Mbembe describes as “fracturing and fissuring” and “expelling organic matter.” When he calls for a “universal right to breathe,” he simultaneously exposes how universalism has normalized its opposite.
In the institutional art world, metaphors of life and death prevail, and while most spaces survived the first phase of lockdown, those that did not offer a striking example of the unevenly shared “right to breathe.”
Above, a literary event organized by the publishing house Présence Africaine at La Colonie, Paris, October 2019.
Photo Alix Hugonnier.
In the middle of March, a multi–disciplinary space founded in 2016 by artist Kader Attia and restaurateur Zico Selloum to host exhibitions, critical debates, book releases, film screenings, concerts, and DJ sets announced that it was closing due to a funding deficit. Located near Gare de l’Est in central Paris, La Colonie (written so as to connote an anti-colony) was financed by income from a bar in the space, a model similar to the one Attia used in the early 2000s, when he financed much of his work through his bar Le Café Chéri(e).
Offering free entrance, La Colonie became a home for unheard ideas and, contrary to state-run institutions, did not impose translation on non-francophone voices. It played a major part in making decolonial thought accessible to a larger public by appealing to antiracist, militant circles as well as scholars and thinkers, threading together the two groups by hosting the likes of writer Françoise Vergès, artist and editor Pascale Obolo, philosopher Seloua Luste Boulbina, and economist Felwine Sarr.
When Attia launched a crowdfunding campaign to reopen the space elsewhere, Olivier Marboeuf, an artist, writer, and editor, wrote him a letter on Facebook stressing how they both create “organisms, collective bodies that grow, live and die” in the act of building “not monuments, but lifeforms.” In 2004, Marboeuf founded Espace Khiasma, a similar space dedicated to producing and exhibiting artists’ films until it was forced to close for financial reasons in 2018.
In an interview he was generous enough to grant me when Espace Khiasma was still running, Marboeuf explained how the “inequality, humiliation, and domination [is] disguised by the neutral figure of the citizen” and how universalist institutions have been preventing the emergence of a racialized intellectual elite. Regarding Khiasma, he emphasized how the space reflected the need for excluded communities to invent their own tools—as he himself had by refusing to become a curator in existing state-run institutions. “We don’t need them to validate what we create,” he said. “The [goal] is not to be against those big institutions, but not to depend on them anymore.”
Since early 2019, Khiasma’s former space has hosted new initiatives led by a collective structure of volunteers and various associations that gather different projects and undertakings. The name given to this experimental “house for all” is A Place to Breathe [Un Lieu pour respirer]. Marboeuf says such spaces mark “a new form of presence through flight.” The act of organizing independent, autonomous, and horizontally interconnected spaces that grow like mangroves puts different forms and practices on the agenda while transcending traditional cultural programs and politics.
Assa Traoré at a demonstration in memory of her brother Adama, July 2020.
Sipa via AP Images.
Even as the former Khiasma space continued to be A Place to Breathe, the “post-Covid-19” period that Mbembe wrote about in early April was tragically followed by what he called another “premature cessation of breathing.” In France, the wave of anger that spanned the world after the killing of George Floyd in America found its voice through Assa Traoré, who since her brother’s death in police custody in 2016 has managed to turn her advocacy group, Justice for Adama, into a widespread social movement and herself into an important political figure.
The protests in support of Black Lives Matter shined new light on questions of equality—something that riots in France in 2005 in response to the fatal electrocution of two teenage boys fleeing the police had not, or at least not to the same degree. In July, the New York Times published an in-depth article under the headline “A Racial Awakening in France, Where Race Is a Taboo Topic.” The author, Norimitsu Onishi, interviewed several key intellectuals and public figures—from Maboula Soumahoro and Binetou Sylla to Rhoda Tchokokam and Rokhaya Diallo—who represent a younger generation bringing debate over race to the fore.
Brick-and-mortar spaces like A Place To Breathe have recently been joined by virtual spaces working toward a shared cause. In March, Seumboy Vrainom :€, an artist and self-described “digital shaman apprentice,” put up on Instagram and YouTube the first video in what he called his Histoires Crépues (“frizzy histories”), a series meant to explore “our shared colonial history” as “complex and frizzy” as his hair. Each video explains a concept or event through cross-reading sources and references accessible free online; collectively, the videos will eventually form a database.
Screengrab of Seumboy Vrainom :€’s Instagram page.
In French schools, Seumboy Vrainom :€ recalled, the only education he had about racism referred to American history, as though French and European colonization had never happened. In Histoires Crépues he analyzes such topics as Africa’s debt, police violence, and racist monuments, showing how French colonial history still shapes society—all while avoiding American and African-American concepts as sole references.
Another example of an alternative digital space is Qalqalah قلقلة, a curatorial platform founded by independent curators Virginie Bobin and Victorine Grataloup in reaction to “a political and intellectual context and media coverage marked by reactionary, authoritarian, and discriminatory speeches and acts.” Dedicated to the production, translation, and circulation of artistic, theoretical, and literary research in French, Arabic, and English, the site’s online editorial space launched in March with the mission, as expressed by writer and theorist Sarah Rifky, to expand beyond “monolingual activists.”
Initiatives of the sort show how a younger generation continues to move beyond universalism by encouraging alternative, collective discourse and by refusing to surrender to total legibility. The pandemic allowed nimble experimentation to take place, as state-run institutions struggled to adapt.
It has also made only more clear the importance of Mbembe’s “universal right to breathe.” The global crisis, he writes, should be an opportunity to “reclaim the lungs of our world.” To do so, the voices of those already suffocating should be those we listen to more and more. For all of us, this is vital if we are to survive.
A version of this article appears in the Winter 2021 issue of ARTnews, under the title “Breathe In, Breathe Out.”